There are many guideposts to follow from the world’s sacred traditions in undertaking the journey of the soul. One of the better known is “The Mystic Way” of Evelyn Underhill from her classic work Mysticism. Drawing from the lives of the world’s mystics and poets, she details five mystic states: awakening, which gives us a consciousness beyond that of the temporal world; purification, which purges us of temporal desires not in harmony with the newly perceived reality; illumination, which lifts our consciousness from a self-centered to a Creator-centered world; “the dark night of the soul,” a symbolic death leading to surrender and rebirth; and, finally, union, where the two worlds, the eternal and the temporal, become one.
Also universal but lesser known as a roadmap for the journey of the soul is Baha’u’llah’s eloquent treatise The Seven Valleys. This divinely inspired template illuminates why and how the soul’s journey benefits us here and in the next world as well. The essence of The Seven Valleys is in helping us to see the end in the beginning; the possibility of the union of opposites; and, to understand that our deepest spiritual transformation comes about not through escape from the world, but work in the world, as service to humanity.
First, the Valley of Search requires great patience in leaving behind all selfish desires and gaining trust in “aid from the Invisible Realm.” Second, the Valley of Love brings a state of ecstasy, an awakening, and a yearning for more. This is preparation for the Valley of Knowledge, where we recognize providence in all things and the inner significance of all things. Next, the Valley of Unity is a bridge between the temporal and eternal realms, conferring an understanding of the divine unity of all created things, and is equivalent to the final stage of the mystic way.
The last three valleys describe emotions that come from the soul, yet animate and contribute to the development of the whole being. The Valley of Contentment brings continual spiritual happiness (through an experiential understanding of God’s bounty and grace) and a sense of inner peace. The Valley of Wonderment reveals “… a myriad perfect wisdoms” and inspires heightened spiritual empowerment. Finally, the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness is where the greatest spiritual wealth possible is realized in the context of eternal life. This journey describes what is humanly possible in the world when one becomes detached from the temporal things of the world, which will pass away anyway.
What may seem like a principle of the mystic life – a solitary quest for union – is really a guiding principle for everyone. The living of one’s life according to the principle of union – or, carried to the practical level of the world we live in, the principle of the essential oneness of all life – is not merely a social commitment, or even an act of social justice, but a core spiritual belief designed to direct and guide every aspect of our lives toward our fullest achievement. This essential roadmap for spiritual development is described much more fully in the book Mystic Journey.