Saturday, April 29, 2017


All this while on the sea floor
Breathing through two eyes
Until my lungs cut a door
Opening the skies.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Marvelous Harmony: On Christina the Astonishing – Part II: Spinning

[for Cyclops Journal, Part I here]

Man with hoop (trochus).[1]

corpusque ejus velut trochus ludentum puerorum in vertiginem rotabatur, ita quod ex nimia vehementia vertiginis nulla in corpore ejus membrorum forma discerni posset. Cumque diutius sic rotata fuisset, acsi vehementia deficeret, membris omnibus quiescebat [and her body would roll and whirl around like a hoop. She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. When she had whirled around for a long time in this manner, it seemed as if she became weakened by the violence of her rolling and all her limbs grew quiet]

In the order of love that parallels spirally the structure of pure action, Christina’s spinning occurs at the interface of longing and intelligence. Where do intelligence and longing meet? In a movement wherein the act of longing, i.e. yearning for the presence of the loved one, fuses with the intelligence of true action or the “effort to attain freedom from self-created entanglement [and] . . . undo what has been done under ignorance.”[2] Intelligence and longing interface in the active effort to be free of action’s bind, to exit the orbit of self-centered activity that reinforces separateness or the alienation of the individual from reality. For “even good and righteous action creates sanskaras [impressions] and means one more addition to the complications created by past actions and experiences.”[3] Longing, the form of desire that desires restlessly beyond desire, yearning through the separation which is its own ground, belongs to the desperateness that exits by acting out the paradox of action as both inevitable and impossible, the fact that one must do something yet there is nothing one can do. Insofar as it can act, longing must act beyond itself, securing something the performance of action cannot per se achieve. The suffering of impassible, astral distance encoded in the concept of longing (from PIE *dlonghos-, source also Latin longus ‘long, extended; further; of long duration; distant, remote’, cf. desire, from de +sidere ‘from the stars’), at once the pain of internal and external separation (objective absence + subjective impossibility of possession), is essentially a suffering of the finite infinity and infinite finitude of the internal/external boundary itself, the ring of desire which encloses individualized consciousness in its self-hypnotized circumference:

The boundary in which consciousness can move is prescribed by the sanskaras, and the functioning of consciousness is also determined by the desires. As desires aim at self-satisfaction, the whole consciousness becomes self-centred and individualised. The individualisation of consciousness may in a sense be said to be the effect of the vortex of desires. The soul gets enmeshed in the desires and cannot step out of the circumscribed individuality constituted by these desires. It imagines these barriers and becomes self-hypnotised. It looks upon itself as being limited and separate from other individuals. It gets entangled in individualistic existence and imagines a world of manifold separateness composed of many individuals with their respective minds and bodies.[4]

The circularity of the structure of separateness confirms the analogy between Christina’s whirling and the hoop played with by children (trochus ludentum puerorum). Longing is enacted by whirling because the only way for what moves in a circle to step out of itself, to go anywhere, is by rolling.
            More than a mere expression of sorrow or joy, and more than a ritual or penitential exercise, the turning of Christina’s body is a veritable action, spontaneous and intentional, enacting her volitional release from the vortex of desires. As a model of action, it demonstrates that that is what intelligent action does, namely, willfully roll desire’s wheel in a movement that both expresses and leaps out of desire, taking eros where it cannot otherwise go. Where merely desirous action, action ordered toward the achievement of a desired object, moves instrumentally in the circuit of lust (craving, satisfaction, disappointment, repeat), intelligent action moves by wheeling the circumference of desire in a manner that playfully masters and serves, directs and follows, its circularity, like a child its hoop. Intelligent action is in this sense post/meta-instrumental. Rolling action through desire, turning action into the instrument of itself, intelligent action instrumentalizes desire itself and so becomes a musical instrument of its beyond. The sudden vertiginous turn of Christina’s body pivots on the point of indifference, or intersection, between action that is played by the circle of desire and action that plays with it, spontaneously turning wanting into a wheel, rolling its circle out into the line of will.
            Three specific aspects of the saint’s movement ask for further explication: the vehemence of her whirling, the indiscernibility of her limbs, and the quieting of her body. I will interpret each aspect in relation to three respective processes at work within the stage of longing—unwinding, sublimation, and cooling—all of which pertain to longing as the subtle, as distinguished from gross and mental, expression of love. Lust is to the gross sphere, as longing is to the subtle sphere, as resignation is to the mental sphere. Longing being the middle term in this order, each of these processes are part of the general movement of transition from lust to resignation or surrender. Where the transition from lust to longing takes place through frustration and the “unambiguous stamp of insufficiency” [5] that the experience of lust bears, and where the passage beyond resignation into the lover’s “own Truth as unbounded and unhampered Love” [6] occurs through the transcendence of the individual mind, the transitive movement of longing, in accord with the status of the subtle sphere as the energetic and imaginal interface between the material and the immaterial, the sensible and the intelligible, is defined by transparency:

In longing the curtain of duality has become more transparent and less obstructive, since the lover now consciously seeks to overcome duality between the lover and the Beloved. In lust the emphasis is solely on the limited self and the beloved is completely subsidiary to the gross needs of the self. In longing the emphasis is equally distributed on the self and on the beloved, and the lover realizes that the exists for the beloved just in the same way as the beloved exists for him.[7]

As Chrisitina’s body ultimately produces the seemingly supernatural sonic transparency of a “voice or spiritual breath” [vox vel anhelitus spiritalis] that resounds directly through her body, so do the three aspects of her whirling—vehemence (unwinding), indiscernibility (sublimation), quieting (cooling)—mark an overall progression of increasing transparency. This progression may be compared to that of burning fire, as used by medieval authors to describe the stages of mystical consummation. In the classic analogy of the individual created soul as iron cast into the fire of divine love, the boundary and distinction between fire and iron, though never obliterated, becomes ever more transparent and less obstructive. As Richard of St. Victor writes in On the Four Degrees of Violent Love:

Gradually glowing, little by little the iron draws into itself the likeness of the fire, until at last it liquefies entirely: it departs fully from itself and takes on a completely different nature. And so having in this manner been swallowed up on the pyre of divine flame and into the fire of inmost love (amoris), having been completely surrounded by the mass of eternal desires, the soul first grows hot, then it glows, and finally it liquefies entirely and passes away from its prior state completely. [8]

As the spin of longing quiets into the higher transparency of resignation or surrender, so does the becoming-fire of what fire burns paradoxically intensify towards the peace of perfect transparency, the state of being wholly overcome, penetrated, and consumed, as Hugh of St. Victor says concerning the grades of contemplation, by the conquering flame [victrix flamma] and voracious fire [vorax ignis]:  

Little by little the damp is exhausted, and the leaping fire dispels the smoke. Then victrix flamma, darting through the heap of crackling wood, springs from branch to branch, and with lambent grasp catches upon every twig; nor does it rest until it penetrates everywhere and draws into itself all that it finds that is not flame. At length the whole combustible material is purged of its own nature and passes into the similitude and property of fire; then the din is hushed, and the voracious fire [vorax ignis], having subdued all and brought all into its own likeness, composes itself to a high peace and silence, finding nothing more that is alien or opposed to itself. First there was fire with flame and smoke; then fire with flame, without smoke; and at last pure fire with neither flame nor smoke.[9]

Transparency coincides with the paradox of passion, its intensification, purification, or transformation into itself by means of its own passivity, just as fire becomes hotter in the dissipation of its flames. It holds the mystery, in Bataille’s words, of the “passivity and absence of effort . . . in which divine transcendence is dissolved.” [10] Without the principle of transparency, the possibility of the thinning of the veil of duality between lover and beloved, passion (from pati, to suffer) would reveal nothing, suffering would bring no knowledge, only suffering. Without the invisible ground of likeness, by which fire shines through the very substantial being of the iron, the iron would merely be consumed by the fire, the individual soul by God. Without the interface of separation, love would bring no realization. Transparency thus anticipates the final mystery of mystical union, which in one sense is less that the lover becomes the beloved—the beloved or divine reality being eternally all in all—but that the lover or individual soul remains herself even after realizing her own nothingness. As Francis Brabazon said, “And so one arrives at the painful conclusion that the Beloved alone exists—which means that oneself doesn’t. And that’s a terrible predicament to find oneself in—for one is still there! The only solution I found was to accept the position: ‘You alone are and I am not, but we are both here.’” [11] The arc of longing, moving between the desperate restlessness of unfulfillable desire and the high peace of self-liquifying surrender, is curved by the principle of transparency. Like the mirror, which discloses paradoxically in the clarity of inversion, transparency provides the necessary (and inescapable) space and distance for the resolution of the contradiction between lust and love: “Lust seeks fulfillment but love experiences fulfillment. In lust there is excitement, but in love there is tranquility.” [12]


The vehemence (vehementia) of Christina’s spinning, a coordinate of both its intensity and its diminishment, suggests a surplus degree of energy, a force at once overpowering and unsustainable. Passion, intoxication, ecstasy have this form, the rising-and-falling wave pattern of something transporting that does not last, like a ball thrown into the air which must return, or a serpent whose strike leaves it uncoiled. The verbal concept of vehemence (related to vehere, carry, and mens, mind, with possible original sense of ‘carried out of one’s mind’, cf. de-mented) [13] likewise indicates the action of a latent energy that bears one away from one’s center, to which there must be a return. Ecstasy, standing outside of oneself, cannot be perpetual. For its essential nature is that of a force whose release throws one outside of oneself, and the self, that which is definitionally always itself, cannot not be recollected in one way or another, just as the madness or death to which continual ecstasy would lead, is simply a form self-preservation, a maintenance of identity (as mad or dead). The vehemence of Christina’s whirling, then, is to be understood along these lines, as constituting a spontaneous release of surplus energy whose presence within her cannot easily be accounted for in terms of the regular processes of corporeal human agency. Likewise, some considered the saint possessed by evil spirits [14] and the overall flow of her life is brimming with extra power, from her sudden flight “like a bird” [15] from her coffin during her first funeral to the unearthly quality of her movement in her latter days, when “she barely seemed to touch the ground” and “the spirit so controlled almost all the parts of her corporeal body that scarcely could either human minds or eyes look at the shadow her body cast with horror or trembling of the spirit.” [16] Indeed, in the scene of Christina’s escape from prison, which is paradigmatic of her paradoxical sojourn in this world as escape within her own willing imprisonment,[17] Thomas draws a fitting analogy between her vehemence and the force of an arrow:

Her spirit then felt itself to be shut up in a narrow dungeon, and she took a stone from the dungeon floor and in her impassioned spirit [spiritu vehementi] she threw it with such force that she made a hole in the wall. To use an example, it was like an arrow which is more forcefully released the harder it is pulled in the bow. Thus her spirit, which had been restrained more than was just, flew with her body in its weak flesh through the empty air like a bird because “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). [18]

So Christina’s spinning, by means of a pent-up force, bores an analogous hole in the world, an opening intersecting with her body itself, through which her spirit flies and divine music enters the earth.
            In these terms, the vehemence of the saint’s spinning figures the experiential process of unwinding whereby the soul releases itself from the bindings of previous actions and moves into its inherent eternal freedom: 

All life is an effort to attain freedom from self-created entanglement. It is a desperate struggle to undo what has been done under ignorance, to throw away the accumulated burden of the past, to find rescue from the debris left by a series of temporary achievements and failures. Life seeks to unwind the limiting sanskaras of the past and to obtain release from the mazes of its own making, so that its further creations may spring directly from the heart of eternity and bear the stamp of unhampered freedom and intrinsic richness of being which knows no limitation. [19]

More specifically, what Christina’s whirling shows is how the action of impressional unwinding is also an impassioned process, like the loosening of a wound spring. It thus demonstrates the dynamic interplay between unwinding and sublimation, which are two of the five intersecting ways in which release from the impressions of prior action is secured. [20] The essence of unwinding, wherein is found its connection to the actless act of longing, is that it does not, unlike the satisfaction-driven process of ordinary action, result in the formation of new impressions:

This process of unwinding should be carefully distinguished from the spending up. In the process of spending up, the sanskaras become dynamic and release themselves into action or experience. This does not lead to final emancipation from sanskaras, as the never ceasing fresh accumulation of sanskaras more than replaces the sanskaras which are spent up, and the spending up itself is responsible for further sanskaras. In the process of unwinding, however, the sanskaras get weakened and annihilated by the flame of longing for the Infinite . . .  The longing for the Infinite gets accentuated and acute until it arrives at its climax, and then gradually begins to cool down. [21]

In the ascending order of love, from lust through longing to surrender, Christina’s vehement whirling as unwinding demonstrates how the frenzy of desire overcomes itself by means of an energetic release born, as an arrow flying the bow, from its own restraint. Indeed her spinning may be conceived as a kind of spiritual auto-erotic act by which her body, impregnated with her own uncreated essence, gives birth to an unearthly music, just as the universe, born from God’s own mad whim, produces in temporal procession towards its dissolution or never-having-been (mahapralaya), the spiraling music of the spheres.[22] By expressing positively, in active movement, the insufficiency that the satisfaction of lust would disclose negatively, in the form of privation or sense of loss, longing experiences the original madness of lust in higher form, one that stays longer with the essential dissatisfaction of love: “Lust means a craze. Some have the lust for power, some lust of the senses, etc. The whole creation came out of lust. The first whim was lustful. God had intercourse with himself through the Om point, and the creation was the result of this act . . . even a mother’s love for her child is lust. Because in love there can never be satisfaction; there is a continual longing and agony till union occurs. In lust there is satisfaction for some time and then again dissatisfaction.” [23] The vehemence of Christina’s movement is the expressive, positive transformation of the ‘stamp of insufficiency’ that the satisfaction of lust bears, the energetic step of action beyond satisfaction which intensifies its own act by releasing into longing, little by little, the latent power of love whose essence is insatiability. Similarly, Porete speaks of the annihilated soul as “inebriated not only from what she has drunk, but very intoxicated and more than intoxicated from what she never drinks nor will ever drink.” [24] As if Christina’s foot turns on the point where dissatisfaction becomes more satisfying that satisfaction, the absent more pleasurable than the present. Or as Mechthild of Magdeburg said, “O blissful distance from God, how lovingly am I connected with you!” [25] Here we also hit upon another paradox of true action, familiar to the experience of authentic initiative and inspiration, that it partakes of a higher economy of thought, energy, and movement, one in which effort produces energy and where the order of intention begins to accomplish itself intrinsically, irrespective of tangible results, i.e. musically.
            Since the originary act—causing the universe, propagating species, and birthing individuals—is lustful or rooted in the satisfaction of desire, the impulse and process of intelligent action, ascending the order of love, bears a special relation to lust’s negation, the struggle to not put lust into action, to ‘inact’ it. Lust is like the gravity by which the soul ascends the mountain of itself—inescapable, cause of many falls and slippages, and also the essential resistance, in the twin sense of both opposition and power, by which ascent is possible in the first place. Again Meher Baba: “Lust is not bad. Because of this lust, you have been born as human beings. It is due to this very lust that you will turn from men into God. But even if lust is there in you, don’t put it into action. From the spiritual point of view, lust is the worst possible weakness. The real hero is he who successfully fights it.” [26] Generating strength and gathering energy through the negation of weakness, action wills itself onward though the self-disclosure of will as intensive negativity, a self-negating force inherently aimed toward the manifestation of its own infinity through sublimation, that is, the form of denial ordered toward the superessential, a no that, by negating the opposition between yes and no in affirmation of what is beyond it, increases rather than diminishes the being of its object. From this perspective, even nothing wills and moves, as Pseudo-Dionysius affirms: “And one might even say that nonbeing itself longs for the Good which is above all being. Repelling being, it struggles to find rest in the Good which transcends all being, in the sense of a denial of all things.” [27] The vehemence of longing, its actively passionate suffering of impassible separation, flows into movement from an impossible presence found in the midst of action, the inexplicable power to do what one cannot by not doing it, which is a characteristic of mystical sorrow or negative will. [28]


The becoming-indistinguishable of the form of Christina’s limbs (nulla in corpore ejus membrorum forma discerni posset) corresponds to the elevation of consciousness from matter to energy. Through movement, the boundaries of her limbs blend into the imaginal quality of energy, whose characteristic function is to flow, circulating between matter and thought, just as, on the physical level, liquid moves between solid and gas. In the order of love, the activation of the body into energetic flow, its manifestation as a form to be seen and thought and felt but not tangibly possessed, signals the sublimation of desire into higher form, one whose intensity exceeds the limitations of gross sensation. As longing places equal emphasis on the being of the lover and the beloved, manifesting the understanding that no one-sided possession will ever answer the claim of love, so does one’s awakening into subtle consciousness involve a reduction by half of lust’s intensity:

The intensity of lust in the subtle sphere is about half that in the gross sphere. Besides, there is no gross expression of lust as in the gross sphere. The lover in the gross sphere is inextricably entangled with the gross objects; hence his lust finds gross expression. But the lover in the subtle sphere has gotten free from attachment to gross objects; hence in his case lust remains unexpressed in the gross form. His lust has subtle expressions, but it cannot have gross expression. Besides, since about half of the original lust of the gross sphere gets sublimated in the subtle sphere, the lover in the subtle sphere experiences love not as undiluted lust, but in a higher form as longing to be united with the Beloved. [29]

In this light, what are the implications of the formal indiscernibility of Christina’s whirling limbs for the general theory of action? What does it mean for the members of action’s body to become indistinguishable? And how does this indistinguishability correlate with longing as the mode of will that bears agency beyond the narrow circuit of selfish desire?
            The general answer to these questions lies in the essentially cooperative and inexplicably participatory nature of action, which is curved around the paradox that the more authentic (from autoentes, self-doing) one’s action is, the less it is oneself who does it. As it states in the Gita, “He who sees that all actions are performed by Nature alone and thus that the self is not the doer—that man sees truly.” [30] As longing is desire on the way to surrender of desire, so does its express and enact agency on the way beyond agency. Like the coordinate movement of gravitationally-bound bodies, none of which is or is not the source of the attraction’s force, longing constitutes a dilation of agency beyond the limited self into a field of action at once someone’s and no one’s. Thus it carries the feeling of doing without doing, which is the very way into surrender: “how do you get out of this Illusion? There is a remedy: it is to surrender yourself to Me, the Reality. The antidote is: whatever you think or do, feel that you are not the doer.” [31] The indiscernibility of Christina’s spinning limbs is correlative to the indiscernibility of gravity, which moves bodies neither inside nor outside their boundaries and with an authentic or self-doing automaticity that restores activity to the status of a trace, a whirring of what only no one can do: “Pondus meum, amor meus; eo feror, quocumque feror” [My love is my weight; by it I am borne, wheresoever I am borne.] [32]
            Experienced within and between bodies, individually and socially, and in all domains of endeavor, cooperation is a spontaneous movement of unity in duality, a current of the wind or spirit that “blows where it will” (John 3:8). As longing endures more of the ungraspable unity of lover and beloved than lust, so does cooperative more than selfish action feel the mystery of the unity of agents, the uncanny pervading intelligence—witnessed especially in moments of improvisation and intuition—whereby things somehow know what to do without themselves, precisely because as Anaxagoras said, “the seed of everything is in everything else.” So Meher Baba speaks of the perception of unity as the spontaneous agent of cooperation and fellow-feeling: “To perceive the spiritual value of oneness is to promote real unity and cooperation. Brotherhood then becomes a spontaneous outcome of true perception.” [33] As song (melisma) is generated from the blending of limbs (melos), music from the numbers of bodies, so does the vehement swirl of the saint’s body seed itself with a celestial harmony that comes neither from her nor anywhere else. In these terms, the indiscernibility of Christina’s limbs is proportional to the loving spiralization of hands experienced by Melville’s Ishmael during a mystical communion of shared labor, the squeezing of spermaceti:

It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with several others, I sat down before a large Constantine’s bath of it, I found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! . . . After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize . . . while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever. Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules . . . Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness . . . In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti. [34]

Longing overcomes, in the constellation of indiscernibility, the inertia and freezing of being that a merely physical conception of life imposes on experience, [35] the coldly calculating coagulation of materialism that dialectically generates the negative solution of destructive violence and suffering. [36] Thus, like the love of fate (amor fati) which Nietzsche conceives before the liquefying blood of St. Januarius—“You who with the flaming spear split the ice of my soul and make it thunder down now to the sea of its highest hope” [37]—the loving order of action beyond materialism is a matter of liquefying concretized potentialities in the fire of longing, of locating and squeezing forms of agency and intention that bleed into their act. Truly practical action, longing to realize the unity that its own gravitational field of movement cooperatively proves and feels, proceeds through the vehement spiritual violence that melts by grasping and grasps by melting into its object, suffering as joy the futility of desire that one will suffer as pain if one does not. Over and against the relegation of longing to the domain of inconsequential affect, one must work to imagine and actualize the immensity of its intense practicality: “The new life which is based upon spiritual understanding is an affirmation of the Truth. It is not something which belongs to utopia, but is completely practical. Now that humanity is thrown into the fire of bloody conflicts, through immense anguish it is experiencing the utter instability and futility of the life which is based upon purely material conceptions. The hour is near when men in their eager longing for real happiness will seek its true source.” [38] As sublimation signifies most literally the elevation of something up to (sub) its highest threshold (limen), it proceeds by means of the reach of spirit through the limit of the body, a stretch into the outside of one’s head or egoic subjectivity, in other words, the spinning of oneself as the limb of another, new center:

Alina Popa, “Beheaded through soulstorm, or, cyclonic headlessness.” [39]

For as Augustine says, “illius enim capitis membra sumus. Non potest hoc corpus decollari” [we are the limbs of that head; this body cannot be decapitated.”[40]


Eventually, longing will realize the life of energy from which the life of the body takes its form. That is the first step, to be followed by second step beyond energy into the life of mind, and thence from mind into God. The step is first in the order of involution, the awakening of consciousness to the reality of its own source, which ascends internally the ladder of becoming that is descended externally in the triplex evolution of bodies (gross, subtle, mental). In this step, one perforce retreats from identification with the physical body, which is only the instrument of oneself and more accurately, ontologically, less a substance in its own right than a shadow of energy, just as, in turn, “all energy is ultimately an expression of the mind.”[41]

The worldly man takes himself to be the body, and dwells in a state which is dominated by the body and its wants. His consciousness centres on the body. He is concerned with eating, drinking, sleeping and the satisfaction of other bodily desires. It is for the body that he lives and seeks fulfillment. His consciousness cannot extend beyond the body; he thinks in terms of the body and cannot think of anything which has no body or form. The entire sphere of his existence is comprised of forms, and the theatre in which he lives and moves and has his being consists of space.
        The first step towards the God-state . . . is taken when the body-state is transcended. Shedding the body-state means entering the sphere of existence which is comprised of energy. The soul then dwells in a state which is no longer dominated by forms or bodies. It is lifted up to the domain of energy. Body or form is a solidification of energy, and to rise from the world of forms to the sphere of energy amounts to an advance towards a more primary and purer state of being. [42]

For this reason, the quieting of Christina’s limbs is to be understood, not simply as relaxation or repose after exertion, but as an index of the act of shedding the body-state. Indeed the grammar of the text is conspicuously clear that her fatigue was virtual—“as if” (acsi)—and that it is she who grows quiet in all her limbs (membris omnibus quiescebat), as opposed to her body being tired from the expenditure of energy. In other words, Christina’s quieting must be conceived positively, as the expression, not of diminishment, but of the expansion of her will into the tranquility of love. [43] Far from taking a break from ecstasy, she is experiencing transport into the quiet power and radical actuality of divinity as pure act (actus purus), the being of reality whose infinite activity also leaves it perfectly at rest, just as “a perfect man functions with complete detachment in the midst of intense activity.” [44] The quiet of her body is not stillness or lack of movement relative to its previous intensity, but the physical manifestation of the rest forever negatively present in the eternally restless heart: “For Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless [inquietum] till they rest [requiescat] in Thee.” [45] Again we touch upon the paradox of true action as paradoxically fulfilled in a form of non-doing (wu wei), like the effortless skill of a master, [46] or the becoming soundless of true prayer, which motivelessly “gushes out of the human heart, filled with appreciative joy” only to “initiate the soul into an ever deepening silence of sweet adoration . . . and direct perception of divine Truth.” [47]
            Approaching surrender, this last phase of Christina’s whirling figures the cooling of longing that anticipates and prepares the way for the fulfillment of love in surrender:

The longing for the Infinite gets accentuated and acute until it arrives at its climax, and then gradually begins to cool down. While cooling down, consciousness does not altogether give up the longing for the Infinite, but continues to stick to its aim of realising the Infinite. This state of cooled but latent longing is preliminary to realisation of the Infinite. It has at this stage been the instrument of annihilating all other desires, and is itself ready to be quenched by the unfathomable stillness of the Infinite. [48]

Rather than being a diminishment of longing, such quiet cooling constitutes longing’s deepening, its augmentation into an ever longer longing, just as quiet, which shares its root with while, signifies a durational state, one that is structured and reinforced through time. Furthermore, in light of the seemingly impossible and ever steepening path that this first step from matter to energy entails, the cooling of longing whereby consciousness withdraws from identification with the gross body foreshadows the infinite fusion of longing and patience that will finally be necessary for one to transcend the summit of mind. [49]
            The quieting of Christina’s limbs, then, must be understood and appreciated in its fullness, not merely as a phase of suspension between two different levels of action (spinning and sounding), but as an inherent and essential dimension of action per se, one that concerns the recollection of powers into a higher synthesis of will or more capacious heart—a heart on the way to being able, like metal transparently liquefying in fire, to do anything and everything. “O marvel! a garden amidst fires! / My heart has become capable of every form.” [50] While some persons, on grounds of rational skepticism or religious faith, will be tempted to see the saint’s celestially musical instrumentalization of her body as impossible (fiction or miracle), I consider it far more pleasurable and practical to see and understand it, via the science of action, as an act of science, an experience of knowing that points at once beyond itself and back into the mystery of musical creation in the first place. Auto-commenting on the above line, Ibn Arabi says, “‘A garden amidst fires,’ i.e. manifold sciences which, strange to say, are not consumed by the flames of love in his breast. The reason is, that these sciences are produced by the fires of seeking and longing, and therefore, like the salamander, are not destroyed by them.” [51] Similarly, the sound that Christina will astonishingly create in the swirling fire of her longing is not only a wondrous harmony that could be heard that day, but the possibility of our hearing it without hearing it, and thus at minimum an infinitesimally more open space for doing-feeling-knowing what one in reality infinitely wants to—the will itself.

[1] Johan Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti antichi inedita (Rome, 1767), plate 196.
[2] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.112-3.
[3] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.113. “Since good experiences and actions also exist in relation to desire, they also bind in the same way as do bad experiences and actions” (Meher Baba, Discourses, I.93). “Just as a man may get bound by an iron or golden chain, so also a person can get spiritually bound by his attachment to evil or good deeds” (Meher Baba, Discourses, I.131).
[4] Meher Baba, Discourses, I..36-7.
[5] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.177.
[6] Meher Baba, Discourses, III. 177.
[7] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.178.
[8] Richard of St. Victor, On the Four Degrees of Violent Love, trans. and intro. by Andrew B. Kraebel, in On Love, ed. by H. B. Feiss (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 295.
[9] Hugh of St. Victor, Homilies on Ecclesiastes (PL 175:117), quoted in Late Medieval Mysticism, ed. Ray Petry (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), 90-91.
[10] Georges Bataille, On Nietzsche, trans. Bruce Boone (London: Continuum, 2004), 135.
[11] Francis Brabazon, Three Talks (Beacon Hill, Australia: Meher House Publications, 1969), 4.
[12] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.160. For an extended explication of the relation between lust and love, see Nicola Masciandaro, “The Inverted Rainbow: A Note on the Spiritual Significance of the Color Spectrum” (
[13] See Walter William Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1898), s.v. “vehement.”
[14] “Her sisters and her friends were greatly embarrassed because of these things [fleeing to the tops of trees, throwing herself into fiery ovens, rolling her limbs ‘into a ball as if they were hot wax’ and so on] and the manner in which they were done, for men thought that she was possessed by demons” (Thomas de Cantimpré, Life of Christina the Astonishing, I.17).
[15] Thomas de Cantimpré, Life of Christina the Astonishing, I.5.
[16] Thomas de Cantimpré, Life of Christina the Astonishing, IV.46.
[17] “At once the Lord answered my desire and said, ‘Certainly, my dearest, you will be with me, but I now offer you two choices, either to remain with me now or to return to the body and suffer there the sufferings of an immortal soul in a mortal body without damage to it [for the salvation and conversion of others] . . . [and] return to me having accumulated for yourself a reward of such great profit.’ I answered without hesitation that I wished to return under the terms which had been offered to me” (Thomas de Cantimpré, Life of Christina the Astonishing, I.7).
[18] Thomas de Cantimpré, Life of Christina the Astonishing, II.18.
[19] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.113.
[20] “The release from sanskaras takes place in the following five ways: (1) The cessation of new sanskaras. This consists in putting an end to the ever-renewing activity of creating fresh sanskaras. If the formation of sanskaras is compared to the winding of a string around a stick, this step amounts to the cessation of the further winding of the string. (2) The wearing out of old sanskaras. If sanskaras are withheld from expressing themselves in action and experience, they are gradually worn out. In the analogy of the string, this process is comparable to the wearing out of the string at the place where it is. (3) The unwinding of past sanskaras. This process consists in annulling past sanskaras by mentally reversing the process which leads to their formation. Continuing our analogy, it is like unwinding the string. (4) The dispersion and exhaustion of some sanskaras. If the psychic energy which is locked up in sanskaras is sublimated and diverted into other channels, they are dispersed and heaved and tend to disappear. (5) The wiping out of sanskaras. This consists in completely annihilating sanskaras. In the analogy of the string, this is comparable to cutting the string with a pair of scissors. The final wiping out of sanskaras can be effected only by the grace of a Perfect Master. It should be carefully noted that many of the concrete methods of undoing sanskaras are found to be effective in more than one way, and the five ways mentioned above are not meant to classify these methods into sharply distinguished types. They represent rather the different principles characterising the psychic processes which take place while sanskaras are being removed” (Meher Baba, Discourses, I.66-7).
[21] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.52.
[22] On the music of cosmic dissolution, see Nicola Masciandaro, “Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya,” in Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I (New York: n.p., 2010), 67-92.
[23] H. Bharucha, “Incidents at Poona—1960,” The Awakener Magazine 22 (1986): 40, 66.
[24] Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, trans. Ellen L. Babinsky (New York: Paulist, 1993), chapter 23.
[25] Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, quoted and translated in Ulrike Wiethaus, Ecstatic Transformation (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 42.
[26] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1099.
[27] Pseudo-Dionysius, Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), Divine Names, 4.3.
[28] Where potentiality is the power to do something, and impotentiality is the power positively to not do something, like the active silence of someone who can but wills not to speak, such mystical apotentiality here means more than a lack of power but a power as it were more powerful in its lack, a third form of potentiality altogether: the power to do something at once without the power to do it and without the doing of it, without act. If doing what one properly cannot, what is impossible, connotes a miracle, this positively inactive apotentiality is a species of negative miraculousness, the mystery of doing what you cannot by not doing it. As Climacus’s account of penthos (mourning, sorrow) shows, the not-doing by which what cannot be done is done is contained within the negative space of an other-doing which points back to it: “Wear something to encourage you in mourning. Those who lament the dead wear black. And if you find yourself unable to mourn, then lament the very fact” (John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell [New York: Paulist Press, 1982], 138). Where freedom or the ability to do as one wills is “to be found in the abyss of potentiality . . . [and] is . . . to be capable of one’s own impotentiality” (Giorgio Agamben, “On Potentiality,” in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999], 182-3), mystical sorrow points to a freedom beyond freedom, a freedom free of its own free will, a freedom free of itself that is freedom: “The just man serves neither God nor creatures, for he is free, and the closer he is to justice, the closer he is to freedom, and the more he is freedom itself” (Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 130). This is the realm of a will so unitary that its impotentiality paradoxically extends into negation of its own divine ground: “Such a man is so one-willed with God that he wills all that God wills and in the way God wills it . . . In this way, one wills to do without God for God’s sake, to be sundered from God for God’s sake” (Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 531).
[29] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.178.
[30] Bhagavad Gita, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harmony, 2000), 13.27. The paradox is explicit in Krishna’s qualification of his divine action, “although I did this, know that I am the eternal non-doer” (4.13), as well as in his command to Arjuna, “a man deluded by the I-sense imagines, ‘I am the doer.’ The wise man knows that when objects act on the senses, it is merely the gunas acting on the gunas; thus, he is unattached . . . Performing all actions for my sake, desireless, absorbed in the Self, indifferent to ‘I’ and ‘mine,’ let go of your grief, and fight!” (3.27-31).
[31] Meher Baba, quoted in Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God Man, Volume VI (North Myrtle Beach, NC: Sheriar Foundation, 1996), 31.
[32] Augustine, Confessions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950), 13.9.
[33] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.20.
[34] Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (New York: MacMillan, 1964), 531-2.
[35] “The notion of geometrical space, indifferent to its contents, that of pure movement which does not by itself affect the properties of the object, provided phenomena with a setting of inert existence in which each event could be related to physical conditions responsible for the changes occurring, and therefore contributed to this freezing of being which appeared to be the task of physics” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith [London: Routledge, 1962], 63, my emphasis).
[36] “The condition of the world, the strife and uncertainty that is everywhere, the general dissatisfaction with and rebellion against any and every situation shows that the ideal of material perfection is an empty dream and proves the existence of an eternal Reality beyond materiality” (Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing [Beacon Hill, Australia: Meher House Publications, 1963], 55).
[37] Friedrich Nietzsche, Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Christopher Middleton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 212. See “Nietzsche's Amor Fati: Wishing and Willing in a Cybernetic Circuit,” in The Digital Dionysius: Nietzsche & the Network-Centric Condition, eds. Dan Mellamphy and Nandita Biswas Mellamphy (New York: Punctum, 2016), 133-44.
[38] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.20-1.
[40] Augustine, Ennarationes in Psalmos, 88.5, PL 37: 1122.
[41] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.170.
[42] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.169.
[43] The positive sense of the word quiet, from the PIE root *kweie- (2), ‘to rest, be quiet’ (also present in tranquility) is clear in its also being the source of Old Persian shiyati, ‘well-being’, and Avestan shyata, ‘happy’ (
[44] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.125.
[45] Augustine, Confessions, trans. F. J. Sheed (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006), 3.
[46] As in the Taoist fable about cutting up an ox: “I see nothing / With the eye. My whole being / Apprehends. / My senses are idle. The spirit / Free to work without plan / Follows its own instinct / Guided by natural line, / By the secret opening, the hidden space, / My cleaver finds its own way. / I cut through no joint, chop no bone” (Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang-Tzŭ [New York: New Directions, 1969], 46).
[47] Meher Baba, Beams on the Spiritual Panorama (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1958), 75-6.
[48] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.52.
[49] “To discard the limiting mind is no easy thing. The chief difficulty is that the mind has to be annihilated through the mind itself. Intense longing for union with the Infinite Reality as well as infinite patience are indispensable in the process of crossing the mind. One Master told his disciple that in order to attain the highest state he had to be thrown, bound hand and foot to a plank, into a river, where he must keep his garments dry. The disciple could not understand the inner meaning of this injunction. He wandered until he encountered another saint and asked him the meaning of the injunction given by the Master. The saint explained that in order to attain God, he had to long intensely for union with Him, as if he could not live another moment without it, and yet to have the inexhaustible patience which could wait for billions of years. If there is lack of intense longing for uniting with God, the mind lapses into its usual sanskaric working, and if there is lack of infinite patience, the very longing which the mind entertains sustains the working of the limited mind. It is only when there is a balance between infinite longing and infinite patience that the aspirant can ever hope to pierce through the veil of the limited mind, and this combination of extremes can only come through the grace of the Master” (Meher Baba, Discourses, II.172).
[50] Ibn Arabi, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1911), 67.
[51] Ibid., 69.

Sunday, January 15, 2017