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Excerpted from The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham. Copyright 1999 by Sophy Burnham. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"At the mystical level all religions have more in common than they differ, and all derive from the same source and long for the same goal."

Sophy Burnham, The Ecstatic Journey, Part 3

The fit passed. After a few moments I dried my tears and rose to my feet and went on about my day. It did not occur to me that my cry constituted a prayer or that my prayer had instantly been answered--my pain washed mercifully away--for this was long before I noticed such events. I only knew my deplorable weakness had passed. I'd regained control. But in that moment of surrender I shifted from agnostic--not knowing--to some flimsy acceptance that something spiritual existed beyond myself. It was not done, however, without a quiver of shame at having failed once more, this time the test of self-reliance. I respected my husband all the more, for he had no trouble with his disbelief.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. They say that it is not the soul that struggles first toward God, but this Universe of Love which is fishing for us. God puts the longing in our hearts so that we will leap upstream, like a spawning salmon that throws itself against the river current, leaping up waterfalls in its passionate urge to reach the source, its birthplace, spawning ground, and death.

Just before leaving New York I had met, by the most striking accident, the first American woman to study in a Buddhist wat, or monastery, in Thailand. (Who was it who said coincidence is God's way of performing a miracle anonymously?) She taught me how to meditate, using the vipassana method of Theravada Buddhism--the Southern school, as practiced in Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

I loved it. For the next three years I practiced this form of meditation for twenty or thirty minutes every day. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, changes occurred. Later I would meet a Hindu guru (more about that later) who gave me a mantra (somewhat easier perhaps) and afterward I practiced that.

We should digress at this point to talk a little about meditation, though I'd suggest that anyone who knows these basics should skip ahead. There are many saints and holy masters, more learned than I, and they have written so gracefully about God and about meditation, which is the path to the spiritual dimension, that to read their works is to touch a point of peace. Go to these. There are Tibetan Buddhists like the Dalai Lama or Sogyal Rinpoche or the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. There are the Japanese Zen masters, like Shunryu Suzuki, and the Americans, such as Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, or, in the Christian tradition, Thomas Merton and Father Thomas Keating. There are the medieval mystics such as Julian of Norwich or Mechtild of Magdeburg, or, in Spain, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Ignatius, Saint Teresa of Avila. There are hundreds of wiser and more learned works than mine. But if you are reading about transcendent moments for the first time and know nothing of meditation, then perhaps this section may be of use.

Today, Christian meditation is having a rebirth; but in the 1970s, when I was beginning my search, that art had been lost since medieval times. Certainly it was not taught to ordinary people. In the tradition of seekers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Aldous Huxley, I took a long journey through Buddhism, then Hinduism, before returning with new insights to my Christian roots. Therefore I describe the Eastern methods of meditation, with their long, unbroken history. In an appendix you will find a Christian path toward meditation; but keep in mind that all types of meditation are similar and all lead to the same golden center, for at the mystical level all religions have more in common than they differ, and all derive from the same source and long for the same goal.

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