A Venture In Mysticism by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

I had heard so much about this Rabbi Tagore and his message of calm for our hustling, feverish life, that I thought I would try to put some of that stuff into practice.

“Shut out the clamour of small things. Withdraw into the deep quiet of your soul, commune with infinite beauty and infinite peace. You must be full of gladness and love for every person and every tiniest thing. Great activity and worry is needless–it is poison to the soul. Learn to reflect, and to brood upon eternal beauty. It is the mystic who finds all that is most precious in life. The flowers of meditation blossom in his heart.” I cut out these words and pasted them in my hat. I have always felt that my real genius lies in the direction of philosophic calm. I determined to override the brutal clamour of petty things.

The alarm clock rang as usual at 6.30. Calmly, with nothing but lovely thoughts in my mind, I threw it out of the window. I lay until eight o’clock, communing with infinite peace. I began to see that Professor Tagore was right. My wife asked me if I was going to the office. “I am brooding upon eternal beauty,” I told her.

She thought I was ill, and made me take breakfast in bed.

I usually shave every morning, but a moment’s thought will convince you that mystics do not do so. I determined to grow a beard. I lit a cigar, and replied “I am a mystic” to all my wife’s inquiries.

At nine o’clock came a telephone call from the office. My employer is not a devotee of eternal calm, I fear. When I explained that I was at home reading “Gitanjali,” his language was far from mystical. “Get here by ten o’clock or you lose your job,” he said.

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I was dismayed to see the same old throng in the subway, all the senseless scuffle and the unphilosophic crowd. But I felt full of gladness in my new way of life, full of brotherhood for all the world. “I love you,” I said to the guard on the platform. He seized me by the shoulders and rammed me into the crowded car, shouting “Another nut!”

When I reached the office my desk was littered with a hundred papers. The stenographer was at the telephone, trying to pacify someone. “Here he is now,” I heard her say.

It was Dennis & Company on the wire.

“How about that carload of Bavarian herrings we were to have yesterday without fail?” said Dennis.

I took the ‘phone.

“In God’s good time,” I said, “the shipment will arrive. The matter is purely ephemeral, after all. If you will attune yourself–“

He rang off.

I turned over the papers on my desk. Looked at with the unclouded eye of a mystic, how mundane and unnecessary all these pettifogging transactions seemed. Two kegs of salt halibut for the Cameron Stores, proofs of the weekly ad. for the Fishmongers’ Journal, a telegram from the Uptown Fish Morgue, new tires needed for one of the delivery trucks–how could I jeopardize my faculty of meditation by worrying over these trifles? I leaned back in my chair and devoted myself to meditation. After all, the harassing domination of material things can easily be thrown off by a resolute soul. I was full of infinite peace. I seemed to see the future as an ever-widening vista of sublime visions. My soul was thrilled with a universal love of humanity.

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The buzzer on my desk sounded. That meant that the boss wanted to see me.

Now, it has always seemed to me that to put one’s self at the beck and call of another man is essentially degrading. In the long perspective of eternity, was his soul any more majestic than mine? In this luminous new vision of my importance as a fragment of immortal mind, could I, should I, bow to the force of impertinent trivialities?

I sat back in my chair, full of love of humanity.

By and by the boss appeared at my desk. One look at his face convinced me of the truth of Tagore’s saying that great activity is poison to the soul. Certainly his face was poisonous.

“Say,” he shouted, “what the devil’s the matter with you to-day? Dennis just called me up about that herring order–“

“Master,” I said mildly, “be not overwrought. Great activity is a strychnine to the soul. I am a mystic….”

A little later I found myself on the street with two weeks’ pay in my pocket. It is true that my departure had been hasty and unpleasant, for the stairway from the office to the street is long and dusty; but I recalled what Professor Tagore had said about vicissitudes being the true revealers of the spirit. My hat was not with me, but I remembered the creed pasted in it. After pacing a block or so, my soul was once more tranquil.

I entered a restaurant. It was the noon hour, and the room was crowded with hurrying waiters and impatient people. I found a vacant seat in a corner and sat down. I concentrated my mind upon the majestic vision of the brotherhood of man.

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Gradually I began to feel hungry, but no waiter came near me. Never mind, I thought: to shout and hammer the table as the others do is beneath the dignity of a philosopher. I began to dream of endless vistas of mystical ham and eggs. I brooded upon these for some time, but still no corporeal and physical units of food reached me.

The man next me gradually materialized into my consciousness. Full of love for humanity I spoke to him.

“Brother,” I said, “until one of these priestly waiters draws nigh, will you not permit me to sustain myself with one of your rolls and one of your butter-balls? In the great brotherhood of humanity, all that is mine is yours; and per contra, all that is yours is mine.” Beaming luminously upon him, I laid a friendly hand on his arm.

He leaped up and called the head waiter. “Here’s an attic for rent!” he cried coarsely. “He wants to pick my pocket.”

By the time I got away from the police station it was dusk, and I felt ready for home. I must say my broodings upon eternal beauty were beginning to be a little forced. As I passed along the crowded street, walking slowly and withdrawn into the quiet of my soul, three people trod upon my heels and a taxi nearly gave me a passport to eternity. I reflected that men were perhaps not yet ready for these doctrines of infinite peace. How much more wise were the animals–and I raised my hand to stroke a huge dray-horse by the pavement. He seized my fingers in his teeth and nipped them vigorously.

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I gave a yell and ran full tilt to the nearest subway entrance. I burst into the mass of struggling, unphilosophic humanity and fought, shoved, cursed, and buffeted with them. I pushed three old ladies to one side to snatch my ticket before they could get theirs. I leaped into the car at the head of a flying wedge of sinful, unmystical men, who knew nothing of infinite beauty and peace. As the door closed I pushed a decrepit clergyman outside, and I hope he fell on the third rail. As I felt the lurching, trampling, throttling jam of humanity sway to and fro with the motion of the car, I drew a long breath. Dare I confess it?–I was perfectly happy!

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