Changemakers Books, 2020
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
John C. Robinson, Ph.D., D.Min. is a clinical psychologist, an ordained interfaith minister, and the author of nine books and numerous articles. Like all of us, he is deeply troubled by the problems and crises that we see all around us as the mess we humans are in and the damage we have done to our beautiful planet become ever more obvious and problematical. And in this, his latest book, he not only traces the path we have taken that has led us to these apocalyptic times we are now living in, but gives us specific practices and ways of thinking that can, if we let them, bring sacredness back into our lives and set us on a new path of activism and Earth-healing.
As so many wise people have pointed out, the big mistake we have made – and still make – is to assume that ‘heaven’ is somewhere else. Which is why Robinson starts his book with a precious childhood memory. I first witnessed Heaven on Earth as a child – a timeless, radiant, richly textured, sublime and sensuous reality permeated by an omnipresent loving, consciousness. I had no words for this immersion in Creation but assumed everyone shared it…By age seven, I realized that adults no longer saw this lit world…But I never forgot my sun-dappled world and, as I moved into middle age, my seeing grew brighter and I began to notice the divine world still existed all around me. At first, I dismissed this awakening vision. Perhaps I was crazy, I wondered, but as a clinical psychologist, I knew that wasn’t true. I soon began exploring world religions like a madman searching for a lost treasure map and discovered that mystics from every tradition always corroborated what I saw – that Heaven on Earth is already here when we are awake enough to see it.
This beautifully-written and richly-textured book, with a thoughtful and appreciative Foreword by Matthew Fox, is presented as a workbook, not only to explain these ideas in detail but to provide, via a carefully selected set of exercises, a form of training through which we, too, can not only awaken to this sacred reality but allow it to infuse our lives and inspire our efforts to bring about much-needed change in the world around us.
Most of us, as he points out, have had mystical experiences at some point, be they big, life-changing ones, or the smaller moments of awe and wonder that frequently happen when we find ourselves overawed by the beauty of some natural scene or some encounter with a wild creature. The exercises in this book aim to produce in us not just isolated mystical experiences but what Robinson calls an ongoing ‘mystical consciousness.’
And unlike the usual exercises in meditation that we have probably all encountered, these aim to teach and guide us gently, and with eyes wide open to the world around us, into the perception of a subtle, all-permeating energy that is very much a part of this world: something he refers to as, a sacred, timeless, loving Presence whose consciousness permeates the universe and blesses us. And yet there is no longer a duality. For this Presence is not other. It is us and we are it and everything in the Universe is fully saturated with it.
As a lifelong activist who is now also an octogenarian with somewhat diminished energy levels, I was particularly taken by Chapter Eight, which is entitled ‘Elders as Transformational Mystics.’ In this chapter, Robinson points out that: For nearly all of recorded history, only one person in ten could hope to live to the age of 65. Now, however, a huge proportion of us in the global North will live into our seventies, eighties and beyond. These are different times and, according to this author (and to many others, including Carl Jung) we are being given an unprecedented opportunity to achieve a further level of psychological and spiritual development than most of our ancestors ever did. This is not a time of stasis, retreat or simply decline. Rather, our new aging appears to be a profoundly transformational stage, a journey into a new dimension of life and consciousness that will affect not only ourselves but the world.
A wonderful project indeed, for the elder years. Or in fact for any stage of life.
This may well be a book that is going to take up permanent residence on my bedside table.