Frederic Leighton, The Return of Persephone (1891)


Now “trials,” taken en bloc mean a disharmony between the self and the world with which it has to deal. Nothing is a trial when we are able to cope with it efficiently.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. Jack Books, 1930, 353.

So, according to Underhill, a difficult situation is defined as disharmony between self and world. Difficulty is not inherent in the situation, but in the actor. Efficient action involves eliminating or disolving that disharmony. Those who live efficiently are not under stress.

Compare, from Wikipedia:

Efficiency is the extent to which time or effort is well used for the intended task or purpose, or the ratio of power consumed to useful power output…

Efficiency …is often used with the specific purpose of relaying the capability of a specific application of effort to produce a specific outcome effectively with a minimum amount or quantity of waste, expense, or unnecessary effort. …In general, efficiency is a measurable concept, quantitatively determined by the ratio of output to input.

… the term economic efficiency refers to the use of resources so as to maximize the production of goods and services.

A next step in this investigation is to similarly compare concepts of “power,” including from, e.g., Thich Naht Hanh’s The Art of Power with that in physics and in politics. The goal here would be to explore if it’s useful to  see two parallel constructs of being and action in these terms. Call them the sacred and the profane? Or the mystical and the economic? I wonder whether Eliade gets into this. (It’s been forty years since I read The Sacred and the Profane.)

It’s not just that the two ways are different. What’s interesting is the ways they are similar. For example, in Aikido these terms are both structural-mechanical, in the anatomical and physiological sense, and emotional-spiritual, in the sense that Underwood and Thich Naht Hahn use them.

Are the similarities just analogies arising from abstractions in our heads, or do they reflect something basic in the real world? The engineer might call the mystic’s language imprecise and meaningless. A mystic might see the engineer’s concepts as a reification and oversimplification of a broader view that incoporates them, what Eliade would call mythological, “tied to cosmic structures and rhythms.”

What happens when both viewpoints are held simultaneously without conflict? The disharmony disappears, efficiently.

Leighton The Return of Persephone 1891
Frederic Leighton, The Return of Persephone (1891)

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